Meall Chuaich (951m);
- Pronunciation: Miaowl Chu-weech
- Translation: Hill of the Bowl or Quaich
- Total distance: 15.2km
- Total time: 3hrs 15mins
- Total ascent: 667m
- Weather: Started off grey with occasional snow showers. Above 750m a cold and strong wind developed with driving spin-drift making visibility difficult.
- Start / end location: Lay-by #94 – A9 southbound just north of Dalwhinne. [Grid Ref: NN 654 867]
- Map: A map of route can be found here – it may take a few moments to load into a separate window. The map displays on most browsers, but not unfortunately Internet Explorer.
This was our sixth day in succession Munro bagging so we decided to opt for a bit of a shorter outing and an ascent of Meall Chuaich to the east of the A9 above Dalwhinnie fitted the bill nicely. Meall Chuaich stands on its own immediately to the east of Loch Cuaich.
Our day began with us parking up at lay-by #94 on the A9 (southbound side of the road), just beyond the hamlet of Cuaich. We then jumped on our bikes and, through a short connecting section of land-rover track, joined a track running alongside the aqueduct that joins Loch Cuaich to Loch Ericht. Given it was an aqueduct that we were following the track was nice and level!
After around 2km the aqueduct came to an end at a low dam bridging the Allt Cuaich burn. Slightly above this dam was the small Cuaich hydro-electric power station. A large-bore water pipe, about 6 feet in diameter, appeared above ground about 50m from the power station and headed up the hillside to the ESE before disappearing over the brow of a small hillock. This pipeline was accompanied by another bull-dozed track. It was actually quite hard to know precisely how the set up of the dam, pipeline and aqueduct interacted – see below for my interpretation.
From the power station we continued ENE on our bikes towards Loch Cuaich passing a turning on the right. As is becoming the norm, all around us loads of red grouse were calling and flying in all directions as we approached. They had even taken to standing in the middle of the track and only moving off at the last minute. A further 600m on and we came to a “cross-roads” in the track, which we crossed and began to veer away from Loch Cuaich slightly. After another 200m we turned right on the track (SE) and passed a small locked bothy on our right. A further 250m and we had reached the base of the NE ridge of Meall Chuaich: the ridge extending up as far as Stac Meall Chuaich.
We locked our bikes and left them lying in the heather. A light snow shower had developed as we started the straightforward climb up the ridge. There was an obvious path all the way up to the plateau at the right of Stac Meall Chuaich. We crossed the plateau, turning towards the east as we did so, before tackling the east ridge right up to the summit plateau of Meall Chuaich (951m or 3,120’). The wind had really picked up to gale-force gusts during the last few hundred metres of ascent, so as soon as we reached the substantial cairn on the summit and had taken a couple of pictures we turned and literally retraced our steps off the hill.
As we reached the lower sections of the hill the weather began to clear a little and here we met a few groups starting out the ascent. When we reached our bikes we stopped to have a flask of tea before racing back along the aqueduct to our starting point.
Looking at our OS map when we got back to the ‘van I think that the set-up at the dam and power station is as follows:
- The bull-dozed track heading ESE alongside the water pipeline appears to turn a little less than 90° to the SW and continues slightly uphill for a further 700m until it reaches a tiny dam and tiny lochan. Could this produce the head of water carried by the pipeline to generate the hydro-electric power?
- Back at the dam beside the power station, which is actually slightly below the station, it looks like its purpose is simply to act as a buffer for storing water flowing along the Allt Cuaich burn from Loch Cuaich further to the ENE and then discharging this water into the aqueduct system, which in turn “flows” into Loch Ericht on the west side of the A9.
- We noticed that the outflow from the power station also discharges into the aqueduct system.